At 0800 on 16 March 2007 I was met on at the Trident pier Port Canaveral, Florida by PCU HAW All (SSN776) Executive Officer, LCDR Mike Quan, and the Chief of the Boat, Master Chief Bob Bentley. I was piped aboard and started a voyage into the future of undersea warfare. The HAW All is the third ship in the Virginia class.
Captain David Solms invited me to the bridge for the underway. The climb to the bridge from the control room was a full deck higher than on other submarines. Non-penetrating mast technology allowed the designers at General Dynamics Electric Boat to locate the control room, the heart of the ship, at the most effective location, the forward compartment middle level. Technology has overcome the century long tyranny of the optical periscope on submarine design.
Some of what I found on HAW All was much the same as on other submarines; dedicated, knowledgeable, well trained professional crew; strict adherence to procedure; exacting attention to detail and an immaculately clean ship.
There was much that was new and exciting. The things that jumped out at me were the visualization of information and simplification of routine tasks. The Control Room was a wonder of easy to read and understand large screen color, flat panel displays. Information was not only displayed, it was recorded for analysis and reconstruction when appropriate. The Officer of the Deck (OOD) stands his watch at the Command Work Station (CWS). From that position he can observe every piece of information needed to conn the ship submerged. When taking the ship to periscope depth the OOD has tactical aids not even dreamed of before the VCS. Multiple cameras in each photonics mast provide the 000 color, black & white, and infra-red views of his surroundings. The infra-red camera turns night into day and allows for early detection of surface contacts. In fact, on HAW All and other ships of the Virginia class, the Control Room does not rig for black during periscope depth or surface operations at night. Need a range to a contact to verify that mental calculation? Not a problem. Each mast is equipped with a laser range finder. The display at the CWS presents a graphical overlay to indicate which direction the mast is pointed, the field of view in use, and contact icons from the ship’s BYG-1 Fire Control System placed at the correct bearing along the edge of the screen.
The Diving Officer of the Watch, Chief of the Watch and the two Planesmen are now part of submarine history. The ship is guided through the three dimensional undersea battle space by the most senior, experienced enlisted men aboard; the Pilot and Copilot. The steering and diving yokes of the past are replaced with joy sticks. Switches, dials and levers are replaced with easy to understand and operate touch screen displays.
The Captain fights the ship from the CWS. The AN/BQQ-IO sonar shack is located along the port side of Control and is fully integrated with the watch team vice sequestered in an adjoining space. To starboard is the ship’s fire control system. The Captain can easily view all sonar and fire control displays from his vantage point or he can call up a specific fire control display at the CWS. The CWS is not a repeater – it is a fully functioning station where the Captain can manipulate the data to obtain the information needed to best fight the ship.
There were no sound powered phones in use. Watchstanders and administrative personnel alike were connected wirelessly throughout the ship. This sounds like a small thing. Not so; it reduces the number of watchstanders, eliminates noise and increases watchstanders mobility. There were no clipboards for watchstanders to lug around and record log readings. Rather they used Palm Pilots and then dumped the data into a server for analysis and retention.
HAW All showed me that the VCS can do every traditional submarine mission -just better.
Covert Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance: The VCS ‘s advanced electronic sensors will collect critical intelligence; locating radars, missile batteries and command sites; monitoring communications and tracking ship movements. Minefields will be detected, while other threat targets will be monitored to ensure that mission objectives are met.
Special Warfare Operations: The VCSs will support the spectrum of special warfare requirements; search and rescue, reconnaissance, sabotage and diversionary attacks, directing fire support and strikes, and other clandestine assignments. The submarine’s integral nine-man lock out chamber can host the Advanced SEAL Delivery System mini-sub or dry deck shelter for Special Forces’ vehicles and equipment. In addition, the VCS’s torpedo room can be reconfigured to accommodate a larger number of special operations troops.
Anti-Submarine and Anti-Surface Warfare: With its advanced combat systems and flexible payload of advanced torpedoes, anti-ship cruise missiles and naval mines, the VCS is equipped and prepared to destroy hostile ships and submarines.
Covert Precision Strike and Direct Support of Forces Ashore: Launching land-attack missiles from its vertical launchers and torpedo tubes, the VCS will strike with complete surprise from coastal waters, multiplying its effectiveness. Initially, the VCS will employ the war-proven Tomahawk Land Attack missile.
Having served on four submarines including four years in command of USS PINTADO (SSN 672) and riding submarines as Commander Submarine Squadron Three and Commander Submarine Force US Pacific Fleet, getting underway on a submarine was not a new thing for me. Getting underway on HAW All was an adventure. I disembarked HAW All at 1200 on 19 March 2007. The entire ride on HAWAII was a trip into the future!
Displacement 7,800 Tons
Length 377 Feet
Beam 34 Feet
Speed In excess of 25 knots
Depth In excess of 800 feet
Payload 38 Weapons, (includes Vertical Launch System), Special Operating Forces
Weapons Launch 4 -21 inch Torpedo Tubes
12 – Vertical Launch System Tubes
Propulsion S9G Pressurized Water Nuclear Reactor
Weapons Tomahawk Land-Attack Missiles
Mark 48 Advanced Capability Torpedoes
Advanced Mobile mines
Unmanned Underwater Vehicles
Sonar Spherical Active/Passive Array
Light Weight Wide Aperture Arrays
TB-29 and Future Towed Arrays
High-Frequency Sail and Chin Arrays
Countermeasures Internal (reloadable) 14 external